Sondra LaVon had been wowing Wichita club audiences for years when a minister suggested that she put her powerful voice to use in church.
So she did, becoming a worship music team leader at The Foundry and several other local churches. For the next seven years, if you wanted to hear LaVon sing, you pretty much had to do it in a religious setting.
“I enjoyed it,” LaVon said. “It was totally different than playing nightclubs. I would do it again. Things just kind of cycle.” Right now LaVon has cycled back to playing in clubs. She’ll perform with the Band of Oz Friday and Saturday at Margarita’s Cantina.
The gig is special to LaVon because Margarita’s is where she broke into the music scene back in the 1990s.
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She happened to meet Martina McBride just before McBride left Lotus, Margarita’s longtime house band, for Nashville and country music fame. LaVon scored an audition with Lotus and was hired as McBride’s replacement.
LaVon says Don Overstake, leader of Lotus and owner of Margarita’s, “really did encourage me. He worked with me and allowed me vocal freedom.” LaVon had been part of a duo backed by pre-recorded music, but Lotus “was the first big band I’d fronted.”
A couple of years later, LaVon and her husband, Terry Hacker, formed the original Band of Oz. The group played regularly around town. Meanwhile, LaVon opened as a solo performer for numerous touring acts that came through Wichita, including Pat Benatar, America, Dan Fogelberg and Jonny Lang.
Despite her brushes with big-time performers, LaVon said she never seriously considered a full-time musical career.
“I’m just a hometown girl, and I’m real comfortable right here,” she said. “I have to admit I dreamed of it when I was a young kid, but playing music right here is great.” LaVon found a kindred spirit in Hacker, who’s been playing bass guitar in bands such as the Bishops and Family Circle since his days at Wichita North High School.
They’re joined in Band of Oz by drummer Ed Macy Jr. and guitarist Tyree Judie Jr., two longtime veterans on the music scene. Keyboardist Chuck Haukos also will play with the band this weekend.
Put them all together, and you have more years of experience than the band members care to add up, but the result is a rock-steady groove behind LaVon’s soulful vocals. Hacker says the band’s approach is to “play Number 1 hits our way. We don’t try to sound like anybody’s record.”
Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” Heart’s “Magic Man” and the Eagles’ “Hotel California” are crowd favorites, as are several of LaVon’s original compositions. Macy said of LaVon’s singing: “She’s the best female singer I’ve worked with, period. The only other one I can think of is Rachelle (Coba, a Wichita blues singer). But Sondra just rocks it.”
Hacker, who also played with LaVon in church groups, said no big crisis led them into or away from religious music.
“Playing music for the Lord is rewarding,” he said.
But LaVon said she enjoys the freedom that playing secular music gives her. It’s a freedom that she says the band members extend to one another every night they play. “Everybody’s got their own little ingredient to add,” she said, mentioning that Judie’s proficiency on the guitar has inspired her to get more serious about her own guitar playing.
“Nobody points a finger and says, ‘You do this and you do that.’ We all look at each other equally. The guys I play with are all good human beings.”
If you go:
Band of Oz
Where: Margarita’s Cantina, 3109 E. Douglas
When: 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday